Advertisement

Viral photos from Venezuela’s protests not all they seem

Members of a pro-government "colectivo," or "collective," march in downtown Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. President Nicolas Maduro and his supporters say the escalating protests against his socialist government in the oil-rich but economically struggling country are part of an attempted coup sponsored by right-wing and "fascist" opponents in Venezuela and abroad, particularly the United States. Rodrigo Abd/AP Photo

Social media have proven useful in popular uprisings around the world. But with a lack of context and verification or driven by a desire to push an agenda, these platforms can also be used to paint false scenes of what’s actually happening on the ground.

Case in point: the anti-government protests in Venezuela.

While there’s plenty of footage accurately depicting the streets of capital city Caracas, there was no photoshopping or editing needed for those on either side to manipulate opinion.

Since opponents of President Nicolás Maduro began taking to the streets of Caracas earlier this month, at least 13 people have been killed and more than 150 injured.

Maduro has all but blocked media coverage deemed to be in opposition to his government and has used state-run media to denounce his opponents.

Story continues below advertisement

Several photos purporting to be from the protests are from other demonstrations – some of them from years earlier, such as this 2010 photo. According to Global Post, the giveaway is that this Agence-France Presse depicts the Metropolitan Police, which were replaced with the Bolivarian National Police in 2009.

“Some of the things that [are] being shared were kind of iconic moments that we knew from experience,” said Alan O’Riordan, editor at Storyful — a Dublin-based news agency that verifies images and video shared on social media platforms.

O’Riordan said one such example is an photo of a woman, wearing a blue bra, being dragged and stomped on by Egyptian military men in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in 2011.

Story continues below advertisement

“That was one of the most famous social media images of all time. To see that being reposted was a bit odd,” O’Riordan said.

“If you feel that something is off or almost too dramatic to be true, it often usually is when it’s being widely shared,” O’Riordan told Global News in a phone interview. He said viewers need exercise a degree of skepticism.

It’s all too easy to just click and share the image, he said. “It’s a regular occurrence. We see it almost daily in our work.”

Many Twitter users are often quick to dismiss bogus images themselves, but that doesn’t mean everyone is wise to misrepresentation.

Some of the false images shared on Twitter were retweeted and shared thousands of times.

Story continues below advertisement

“I suppose it’s a human weakness, in some cases, where the context is played down because the instance is so dramatic,” he said.

This photo from June 2013 protests in Rio de Janeiro, spurred by a transit fare hike, has been retweeted more than 7,400 times since Feb. 16.

Then there’s the a five-year-old image of a government rally in Caracas, tweeted on Feb. 15. It came from an account that appears to belong to Jorge Luis Rodríguez, mayor of Caracas’ Libertador district.

There was a massive pro-government rally in the capital last week, but it was three days after Rodríguez’ tweet.

Story continues below advertisement

At the Feb. 18 demonstration, thousands of people who were reported to be members of the country’s oil workers’ union donned the red caps and flags of Maduro’s United Socialist party and rallied outside the presidential palace in Miraflores.

(The image above was tweeted from the verified account of Venezuela’s TelesurTV and retweeted from the verified account of President Nicolás Maduro)

READ MORE: Competing rallies grip Venezuela after days of violence

But the image tweeted from the @JRodriguezPSUV account, which has more than 22,200 followers, was attached to a message that translates to mean “#WeAretheArmyofPeace Since the fascists intend to destabilize the country, we fight for peace and life,” was posted days prior to that.

Story continues below advertisement

As PolicyMic noted, in the top left corner of the image there is a giant Pepsi balloon atop a building. That balloon is no longer there: Rodríguez had it taken down in 2010.

One of the things to look out for is who is sharing images, O’Riordan said.

“Like everything else online, look at who is sharing this and how would they know [what’s going on],” he said.
Story continues below advertisement

This image of two rows of bodies, purportedly student protesters killed in the city of Maracay, was shared on Twitter on Feb. 16.

The image is from Aleppo, Syria, was taken in 2012 and has more bodies in it than the total number of people confirmed dead as of Feb. 24. The poster, Jonathan Mora, is located in Mexico, according to his Twitter account.

“Even if something is new to us [at Storyful], we naturally check the prominence and run our searches… [and] reverse search every image we’ve seen,” O’Riordan said.
Story continues below advertisement

He said doing a reverse image search using Google images or search engines such as TinEye will help viewers determine the origins of the picture.

“It might not tell you very quickly where it came from, but it will tell you very quickly, in a lot of cases, if [the image] is what it says it is,” O’Riordan explained.

Here are some images from the most recent scenes of protest in Venezuela via The Associated Press and Getty Images

113
Motorcyclists attend a rally in support of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, Feb. 24, 2014. Opposition protesters erected barricades across major thoroughfares on Monday, bringing traffic to a halt in parts of the Venezuelan capital in a continuation of the unrest that has roiled the country for nearly two weeks. Rodrigo Abd/AP Photo
213
In this Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014 photo, anti-government protestors fill a major avenue in Caracas, Venezuela. Venezuelans on both sides of the nation's political divide took to the streets on Saturday after nearly two weeks of mass protests. Carlos Beccerra/AP Photo
313
Members of a pro-government "colectivo," or "collective," march in downtown Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. President Nicolas Maduro and his supporters say the escalating protests against his socialist government in the oil-rich but economically struggling country are part of an attempted coup sponsored by right-wing and "fascist" opponents in Venezuela and abroad, particularly the United States. Rodrigo Abd/AP Photo
413
David Aranguren, his face painted with a representation of Venezuela's national flag, poses for a photo during an anti-government demonstration in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014. Supporters and opponents of the government of President Nicolas Maduro are holding competing rallies in the bitterly divided country. Rodrigo Abd/AP Photo
513
A pedestrian walks in front of a burning barricade blocking the highway in Chacao, Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, Feb. 24, 2014. Traffic has come to a halt in parts of the Venezuelan capital because of barricades set up by opposition protesters across major thoroughfares. The protests are part of a wave of anti-government demonstrations that have swept Venezuela since Feb. 12 and have resulted in at least 10 deaths. The protests in the capital Monday were peaceful. Police and National Guard troops stood by but did not act to remove the barricades despite the effect on the morning commute. Rodrigo Abd/AP Photo
613
A masked demonstrator carries a barrel to build a road block in the Altamira neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. Venezuelan security forces backed by water tanks and tear gas dispersed groups of anti-government demonstrators who tried to block Caracas' main highway Wednesday evening. Rodrigo Abd/AP Photo
Story continues below advertisement
713
A man wearing a T-shirt of Venezuela's independence hero Simon Bolivar chants pro-government slogans during a march by elderly people in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. The march was organized by the government in the name of peace, and ended at Miraflores presidential palace where the seniors met with Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro. Rodrigo Abd/AP Photo
813
Anti-government protesters take cover during clashes with riot police in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014. After their opposition rally broke up in the late afternoon, in a pattern that has been seen in past demonstrations about 1,000 stragglers erected barricades of trash and other debris and threw rocks and bottles at police and National Guardsmen. The troops responded with volleys of tear gas to prevent the students from reaching a highway and blocking traffic. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) . Rodrigo Abd/AP Photo
913
A man carries a woman affected by tear gas launched by riot police at anti-government protesters in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014. After their opposition rally broke up in the late afternoon, in a pattern that has been seen in past demonstrations about 1,000 stragglers erected barricades of trash and other debris and threw rocks and bottles at police and National Guardsmen. The troops responded with volleys of tear gas to prevent the students from reaching a highway and blocking traffic. Rodrigo Abd/AP Photo
1013
Objects placed by opposition protesters block a road in the Altamira neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. Violence is heating up in Venezuela as an opposition leader faces criminal charges for organizing a rally that set off escalating turmoil in the oil-rich, but economically struggling country. Rodrigo Abd/AP Photo
1113
Burning tires placed by opposition protesters block a main avenue in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. Members of the opposition are protesting after their leader Leopoldo Lopez surrendered to authorities Tuesday. Lopez was being sought by authorities for allegedly inciting violence during protests last week in which three people were killed as government forces clashed with protesters. (AP Photo/Carlos Becerra). Carlos Beccerra/AP Photo
1213
Demonstrators protect themselves as they confront riot policemen during an anti-government protest next to a sign reading 'Venezuela is not mute' in Caracas on February 22, 2014. Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets of Caracas in marches for and against President Nicolas Maduro's government Saturday, as the nation's massive divide became ever more evident. The protests -- which began on February 4 -- are seen as the biggest test yet to socialist leader Maduro since he succeeded late leftist icon Hugo Chavez last year, with the country's economic problems at the heart of often bloody marches that have left 10 people dead and scores injured. Raul Arboleda (AFP)/Getty Images
Story continues below advertisement
1313
Protesters confront riot policemen during an anti-government demo, in Caracas on February 19, 2014. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, successor of the late Hugo Chavez, is under fire over what protesters say is rampant crime, runaway inflation, high unemployment and other economic problems. Leo Ramirez (AFP)/Getty Images

Sponsored content